From transfer student to leader: Kevin Priebe’s Roosevelt journey

Kevin Priebe reaches high for a rebound in a game against Cardinal Stritch University. (Abbas Haleem | MEDILL)

By Abbas Haleem

The bottom floor of Roosevelt University’s Goodman Center was still under construction the first time Kevin Priebe set foot in it.

He walked upstairs for the basketball team’s first game at the gym on Dec. 1, 2012. He was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater at the time, but he was looking to transfer because of his unhappiness with the system.

He reached out to Tyree York, a former high school teammate who was a sophomore on Roosevelt’s team at the time.

“It had to be 8 p.m., and I was tired from practice,” said York, who played with Priebe at Glenbard East. “He shot me a text like, ‘Hey man, I want to come there. It’s not working out here.’”

York said he immediately went to Roosevelt coach Joe Griffin and said, “We need to get this kid here.”

It worked out. Three weeks later, York and Priebe were practicing and playing on the same court.

Now, 92 games and 923 career points later, Priebe is the first Lakers basketball player in school history to play on a Roosevelt-owned home court for four years.

Priebe has come a long way from being a high school senior who didn’t think he was skilled enough to play college basketball. He didn’t know of Roosevelt coming out of high school, and it didn’t help that the school lacked its own gym when the coaches recruited him. But they pitched him the idea of what would come and the culture he could help build.

He said he remembers not knowing the offense or much about the teams in his conference. He added that he won’t forget former teammate Jeremiah Jackson breaking a rim one day and Griffin taking on the ice bucket challenge in the offseason to raise money for Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The memories were flowing when Priebe played his final game in Roosevelt’s green and white uniforms.

“Once you find out you’re really done, it does hit you that it’s pretty sad it’s all over,” he said.

He said his last season was up and down. It was frustrating that the team didn’t have chemistry early in the season. That style of play was the story of the Lakers’ season, he said. They couldn’t put together a major run to keep them in the playoff race.

The Lakers finished their season with a 12-16 overall record, going 8-12 in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference.

However, the season and Priebe’s career did finish on a high note. The Lakers’ 82-79 victory against Judson University featured a clutch three-pointer by roommate Korey Ryan.

“The last win was awesome,” Priebe said. “Korey hit the game-winning three. Korey’s one of my best friends I’ve made here at Roosevelt, so to have him hit that game-winning three and go out like that in overtime was pretty awesome. That was a great way to end it.”

He said he doesn’t intend to help coach. Instead, he’s going to give the team the space they need to grow without him and find new leadership. The three things on his mind now: keeping in shape, studying and getting a job after graduating with a marketing degree.

But his impact will last.

Priebe, along with junior Jason Markus, was co-captain this year, the first since the program’s revival six years ago.

Markus said he and Priebe are opposites as leaders. Priebe is more of a physical and focused player, whereas Markus makes sure everyone is vocal on the court.

“He knows how to talk to people their way, and he’ll pull them aside and he knows what’s going on,” Markus said.

Associate head coach Aaron Rolle said Priebe  was a perimeter player last season but struggled from the outside this season. He used to jump high to catch and dunk alley-oops when he played with York, but he became more of a rebounder and shooter in his final season.

Instead of Priebe letting that get to him, he changed his game and started to post up more, Rolle said.

“A lot of young guys freak out,” Rolle said. “He’s a little older and he knows there’s nothing to freak out about. Just play to your strengths, and he’s developed those strengths.”

Rolle said Priebe got in players’ faces and played with a “certain toughness about him” that got his teammates riled up.

Griffin said that same toughness made Priebe’s teammates respect him as much as they do, not to mention the time and commitment he put into practicing hard on the court and in the weight room.

“Priebe is our emotional leader and our fiery, rah-rah type of guy,” Griffin said.

Priebe said his leading style came naturally. It just happens. But he said it wasn’t enough this season.

“As the captain, as the guy leading the group of younger guys, you want to get them a taste of what you are playing for,” Priebe said. “The conference tournament is great. You play to get in that national tournament. That was my goal, to get those guys there, but I didn’t do that. We didn’t do that. It sucks because you want these guys who have never been there to know what they’re playing for each season. By not getting there, they just don’t know. That’s what I’m angry about.”

Still, he said teams don’t just play perfect basketball for 40 minutes each game. That’s the goal, though, and it’s what the Lakers work toward in practice every day. And Priebe said they’ll get there.

He said the chemistry will improve and that the Lakers will win more games, and he looks forward to coming back and watching.

“They’ve really made college and everything a great place in my life,” Priebe said. “I’m nothing but appreciative of Griff, Rolle and everybody I’ve played with and everyone that’s come through the program. Any manager and anybody. It’s been a blessing for me. It’s another home.”

Kevin Priebe reaches high for a rebound in a game against Cardinal Stritch University. (Abbas Haleem | MEDILL)